To defend a blank piece of paper, the SNP spent £8000 of taxpayers’ money on legal fees

24th October, 2012 11:11 am

Yesterday the Scottish Government announced that specific legal advice on EU membership and an independent Scotland did not exist and that they are now going to seek such advice. In March this year when asked the question by journalist Andrew Neil, the First Minister is on record as saying “yes”, the advice existed. If we are now told the legal advice did not exist, then when the First Minister was asked the question and responded positively “We have, yes” either he made a mistake and should apologise for misleading the Scottish public, or he intentionally lied to mislead the Scottish people in order to pursue his own political agenda and should therefore do the honourable thing and resign as First Minister.  His statement yesterday in the Scottish Parliament illustrated a clear ambivalence by him over his actions. No humbleness, no apology, just the arrogance of five years of power with a complete disregard for the people he claims to serve.

In May last year I wrote to the Scottish Government after listening to SNP representatives asserting that Scotland, if it became an independent country, would automatically gain full membership of the EU. I called on the Scottish Government to state whether any legal advice existed on this question and if so to publish it. Their response stated that it was not in the public’s interest to publish such advice and after appealing I was left with no option but to take my case to the Scottish Information Commissioner. On the 6th July, 2012 she made her ruling that on the point of whether the legal advice existed or not the Scottish Government had a duty to tell me by the 21st August, 2012.

Instead of informing me with a yes or no answer, they decided to take the Information Commissioner to Court. On the 20th September I attended the Court of Session to be informed that the hearing would take place between the Scottish Government and the Information Commissioner on the 18th/19th December. Yesterday in Strasbourg I received a call from the Scottish Government that a statement would be made and that I would be interested in what it contained. At 14:20 UK time, 15:20 French time, the Deputy First Minister ‘s statement was released and on p9 the answer to my question which I had spent 17 months pursuing was finally answered. The SNP’s legal advice was non-existent – just a blank sheet of paper.

Are the SNP having the last laugh on this one? I hope not. I am glad that I did not give up and pursued the question when colleagues told me it was a waste of my time, because  it confirmed what I thought all along: that the SNP were making it up. They lied when they asserted about automatic membership of the EU and what makes it far worse and more serious so did the First Minister. What makes me most angry is the waste of valuable resources at a time when services are being cut to the most vulnerable in our society under the SNP’s watch. To defend a blank piece of paper they paid an estimated £8,000 in legal fees. To also waste the valuable time of the Information Commissioner when they knew they had no legal advice beggars belief. It shows a disdain for the very person who upholds our freedom to know and holds public bodies to account.

Will the SNP and Alex Salmond be trusted after this shambolic series of events? With this display of incompetence, I hope not.

Catherine Stihler is a Labour MEP for Scotland
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  • Amber_Star

    Catherine,
    Nice 1 – Alex Salmond had become insufferably arrogant; thank you for wiping that smug look off his face. I think he will be asked by the SNP to lower his profile. I expect to see much less of Salmond & more of Nichola Sturgeon following the outcome your FOI request.

  • Wrong taxpayer target Catherine : On the same day its  reported we the taxpayer paid A4e 46 million for a failed work programme . In the same week MPs are once again in the frame for making money by flipping rented apartments.  How you gonna save the taxpayer from this ?

  • postageincluded

    Well done, Ms Stihler.

    It’s not at all surprising that Salmond said something that wasn’t true. Two things are surprising:-

    1)   That he was given the benefit of the doubt by so many, for so long, after using the utterly implausible ” it was not in the public’s interest to publish such advice”  defense.
    2)    That he thought he could get away with it.

    Salmond seems to have reached that point in his political career when his brain has given up trying to connect his mouth to reality – what I think of as the “no such thing as society” moment. It always heralds a decline, and usually a rapid one.

  • Your article states ” is on record as saying “yes”, the advice existed.”

    Mr Salmond, in response to Andrew Neil’s question said “We have, yes, in terms of the debate”  Slightly different.

  • uglyfatbloke

    So the headline here should perhaps heave read…’ Salmond berated for not telling outright lie thus undermining finest traditions of political life.’?

  • brianbarder

    I carry no torch for Alex Salmond (although I regard him as the most formidable political leader in the UK) and I’m vehemently opposed to independence for Scotland.  But as I understand it, his defence against the charge of having lied about having obtained legal advice on the question of an independent Scotland’s position vis-à-vis the EU is that his and other SNP statements on the subject, arguing that Scotland’s existing status of EU membership (as part of the UK) would continue after independence so that there would be no need to apply as a candidate for membership, had all been seen and approved by the Scottish government’s legal advisers.  This can, I suppose, just about be squared with Salmond’s reply to Andrew Neil (“We have, yes, in terms of the debate”).  I conclude, somewhat reluctantly, that the charge of ‘lying’ can’t be made to stick, although the charge of having been deliberately misleading probably does.

    But in all the excitement over what Salmond did or didn’t say and whether he lied, an important statement by the UK government on the question of Scotland and the EU seems to have been widely missed.  The only reasonably full report of it that I can find was in the Guardian of 1 November, at

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/nov/01/alex-salmond-scotland-eu-membership?commentpage=last#end-of-comments

    .  The relevant passage reads:

    “In a brief statement
    issued on Thursday, Westminster hinted strongly that its legal advice directly
    contradicted the claim by Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, that, if
    Scotland voted for independence, it and the rest of the UK would need to reapply
    to join the EU as newly formed states.

    “The UK government
    statement stressed that, unlike the Scottish government, it had obtained formal
    advice from its law officers and that Scotland would have to negotiate the
    terms of its EU membership with the UK and all other 26 member states.

    It said: ‘This
    government has confirmed it does hold legal advice on this issue. Based on the
    overwhelming weight of international precedent, it is the government’s view
    that the remainder of the UK would continue to exercise the UK’s existing international
    rights and obligations and Scotland would form a new state.

    ‘The most
    likely scenario is that the rest of the UK would be recognised as the
    continuing state and an independent Scotland would have to apply to join the EU
    as a new state, involving negotiation with the rest of the UK and other member
    states, the outcome of which cannot be predicted.’

    “Referring to
    statements by European commission president, José Manuel Barroso, and his
    deputy, Viviane Reding, that a newly independent country would be seen as a new
    applicant, it added: ‘Recent pronouncements from the commission support
    that view.’ ”

  • Pingback: UK government: an independent Scotland would have to apply to join the EU | Brian Barder's website and Ephems blog()

  • uglyfatbloke

    General point about Scotland and the EU….
    Scots have been EU citizens for 40+ years and there is no EU mechanism for excluding either EU citizens or any country or territory from the EU, so to push Scotland out a mechanism will have to be developed.
    This could be useful in the future. If Belgium slits into two countries, Brussels would be outside the EU…how funny would that be?

  • Didn’t David Miliband spend £142,000 on suppressing requests for legal info on Iraq. Pot Kettle Black….

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